Red and Green: Inside the Wash. U. sports numbers, both bad and good
Washington University’s fall sports teams have been in action for nearly three weeks now, which is usually enough time to gauge where they stand. They’ve played more than a handful of games, and it’s becoming clearer where they excel and where they may need to step up their game. As the leaves turn from green to red and the Bears march into the toughest part of their schedules, let’s examine the statistics—bearish and bullish—that tell the story of the season thus far.
It’s the number of days until Wash. U. women’s soccer takes on currently-No. 2 University of Chicago on the road in the regular season finale. This will almost assuredly be the toughest test the Bears face until the postseason. Last year, Chicago pushed Wash. U. to overtime on their own turf amid a stretch in which the Red and Green outscored opponents 28-0. No matter how good the Bears look now, the Maroons are always a worthy rival, especially when it may be a battle of the nation’s top spot.
There might be some regression on the horizon for the men’s soccer Bears. Undoubtedly, they’ve outplayed their opponents thus far, taking 43 percent more shots and 29 percent more goals. But the result has been 350 percent more goals, and that just might be unsustainable. Wash. U.’s opponents have actually been on target more often (.400 shot on goal percentage) than the Bears (.360), and despite how good senior goalkeeper Colin McCune has looked, some of those shots will inevitably start falling. Wash. U. may very well continue to feature elite goal prevention, but all indications are that it might not be quite this good.
In their first game of the season against Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, the volleyball Bears recorded 26 block assists. Since then, that number has suddenly and inexplicably dropped. Over the team’s next five games, they recorded 10 to 16 block assists in each. In the next five, the numbers dropped all the way to single digits, including zero in one game and two in the most recent. The Red and Green’s defensive philosophy has seemed to shift drastically over the first dozen games, from heavy team defense to very little team defense.
As the adage goes, you have to be able to run to set up the pass. The football Bears haven’t had much luck in that area, averaging a paltry 2.5 yards on the ground thus far. That might be because no player has separated himself from the pack yet: Through three games, 10 different Bears have attempted at least two carries. By comparison, just six Bears had multiple rush attempts all of last season. No one has taken more than 36 of Wash. U.’s 121 attempts, and that’s quarterback and sophomore Johnny Davidson. The lack of authority on the ground has contributed to a similar lack of success through the air. The Red and Green are wholly in the red in both spots, averaging 59.6 fewer rushing and 63.4 fewer passing yards per game than their opponents.
It’s the number of things that have gone wrong for the women’s soccer team this season. They’re defending champions, started the season ranked No. 1 and remain at the top spot through seven sterling games. They’re not giving the opposition much of a chance, either: Wash. U. leads the competition 178-37 in shots, 85-16 in shots on goal, 22-2 in goals and 21-0 in assists. They’ve already been battle-tested, too, coming away with wins against the No. 8 and No. 10 teams.
Sophomore forward Taylor Cohen leads the crew with seven goals, but the Bears have a balanced attack, with 11 players notching at least one so far. Most pleasing for the Red and Green is that they haven’t blinked an eye with the departure of 2016 National Soccer Coaches Soccer Association National Player of the Year Lizzy Crist. Freshman goalkeeper Emma Greenfield has stepped right in to fill the void with a 0.20 goals against average, slightly better than Crist maintained a year ago.
Junior forward Ryan Sproule has evolved into one of the best players in the UAA this season for the men’s soccer team. His five goals are second in the conference and also represent more than half of the nine goals scored by the Bears this season. Sproule has been both high-volume and highly efficient. His 25 takes are easily tops among the Red and Green (no one else has more than 10), but he’s put 48 percent of those on target despite the attention.
At first glance, Wash. U. women’s volleyball is very ordinary this year, just 6-5 so far. The underlying numbers don’t contradict that notion; the Bears have outscored opponents just 976-957, a slim margin for a traditionally elite squad. But 2016 provides a tale of caution to writing off the Red and Green. The Bears were the same 6-5 at the same point last season, complete with a loss to a top-four team. But they were battle-tested from the tough early schedule and finished the season with a run to the NCAA Championship. One thing is clear with the Bears: They have the talent, and there’s plenty of time left for them to turn it into wins.
Wash. U. football terrorized Chicago’s offensive line two weeks ago, racking up eight sacks on the day. The defensive front, led by sophomore linebacker Jeff Gurley and senior defensive lineman Nick Leduc with 2.5 sacks apiece this season, has showed real promise early after topping out at five sacks a year ago. They haven’t been consistent: That eight-pack was bookended by single-sack performances. But the unit has applied pressure, and that’s a good sign going forward for a team that may need to win the turnover battle to compete.